New U.S Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, the Chicano’s Literary Rock Star
On Wednesday morning, Herrera became U.S. poet laureate for his prolific countless poems and inspirational work as an educator – but writing poems isn’t the only thing this Chicano can do. He’s a rockstar, actor, master bird-caller and so much more…
He’s the first Chicano to achieve this honor. And it’s kind of a big deal.
No Latino has ever received this high-level title and it doesn’t get any higher than this. Other poets who’ve received this honor include the great Robert Frost and Philip Levine.
His mother’s singing helped him fall in love with poetry.
The songs that inspired him the most were about the Mexican Revolution – of all things. If she could see how far he’s come, “my mother would be so happy. She’d be clapping. Maybe crying. And dancing.”
Bird calling is one of his secret talents.
As told in his children’s book Calling the Doves, he tells how his dad taught him how to master the art so perfectly by whistling into his hands, doves would fly right in.
As the son of migrant workers, one of his biggest passions is immigration.
His parents came from Mexico after the Mexican Revolution of 1910 in search of the American Dream. During his youth, his family moved from tents to trailers, “crop to crop, field to field” so his parents could sustain work as field workers.
Walt Whitman is one of his biggest inspirations.
Like Breaking Bad‘s Walter White who kept Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in his bathroom, Juan Felipe Herrera also drew inspiration from Whitman’s works. Among his other inspirations were César Vallejo and Picasso.
He was punished for not being fluent in English. Then proved the haters wrong.
He recalls being punished in the first grade for not speaking perfect English. Fast-forward a few years and he went on to get degrees from UCLA and Stanford – and later become the U.S. Poet Laureate. How’s that for fluency?
His books of poetry resonate with audiences of all ages.
He’s published over two dozen books with poems that swing between English and Spanish.
Easy to see why. His words and enthusiasm are contagious.
Herrera told the Washington Post that he believes poetry “is a way to attain a life without borders.”
The acting bug bit him in the late 60s.
He attended UCLA, being amongst the first to receive an Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) scholarship. There he was influenced by the likes of Allen Ginsberg and Luis Valdez and began performing in experimental theatre.
So did the music bug.
He likes to plays some sick licks to accompany his poems.
As you can see, his words transcend into all genres, including musicals.
His popular children’s book The Upside Down Boy was adapted into a musical and has published award-winning fiction.
Artistic talent runs in the family.
His uncle Roberto is an actor, community organizer, radio host and comedic theatre performer. His other uncle was a muralist and painter. His dad founded this church in Mesquite, New Mexico in the early 1930s.
Oh, and he’s just like us.
Herrera loves to share pictures of food…especially chiles.